I haven’t posted in yonks, so what better way to come back than with my favourite flick of last year and the much beloved Academy Award Best Picture Winner, Spotlight. As controversial as the Catholic Church paedophilia phenomenon may be, I’m sure we can all agree regardless of our personal stance that this film is just … brilliant. But you need to step outside of your happy bubble to embrace the harsh reality happening just outside your doorstep.
Actor-turned-filmmaker Tom McCarthy has always been a low-key defender of the outsider. His early films marked him out as a craftsman of mature and thoughtful dramas, so when this phenomenon took over the media world, McCarthy was at the very least inspired. Alongside co-writer Josh Singer, Spotlight’s needle-sharp screenplay embraces the mugginess of moral compromise over the cases of paedophilia in the Catholic Church. They illustrate the true story of how the Boston Globe, under its first Jewish editor Marty Baron, took on the entrenched abusive institutions of the church in a city where Catholicism is a way of life, and police and priests are thick as thieves.
“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.”
Spotlight shifts the focus away from the church to examine how an entire community can become complicit in an unspoken crime. The journalism thriller draws excitement from joining disparate dots throughout the film, eventually taking shape to form the bigger picture. With its convincingly mundane scenes of journalists bashing phones and trawling through dusty records, McCarthy buries discernible visual styles and cinematography behind the pressing issue of script and story. Perhaps the filmmakers felt that their subject was in fact too important to be aesthetically pleasing. Instead, we’re faced with gut-wrenching stories of victim of abuse head on, and even in one case a complacent paedophile priest. You’ve been warned: this film is hard to swallow.
After his striking role in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu’s Birdman at the last Academy Awards only last year, Michael Keaton returns once more as Walter “Robby” Robinson. He does far quieter work here than in Birdman, taking on the role of Spotlight stalwart, shaken by the extent of the paedophilia scandal. Rachel McAdams, as Sacha Pfeiffer, takes on the role of a compelling reporter who regularly attends mass with grandma, but soon rapidly begins to lose residual connection with the church as the hidden truths unfold. Pfeiffer presents us with beautiful cinematic moments that balance the distant crisis of faith with the real and present courage of conviction. And last but not least Mark Ruffalo, as Mike Renzendes. The strength of his performance is carried by his passion and long-suppressed outbursts of emotion. He gives a brilliantly calibrated physical portrayal of a born investigator.
We see the personal transformation of all of principle members of Spotlight when the truth begins to unfold. But you seriously can’t listen to traumatic abuse stories and not feel impacted. The psychological impact of their traumatic experiences are rarely explored in mainstream cinema – which is what draws me to the film even more.
I’ve come to realise that Spotlight’s greatest strength is in the way it defies being chopped into components. To its core this is an ensemble film with characters harmonising like ingredients in a satisfying meal. We’re presented with the horrible specificity of victim stories and the subsequent negligence of the community. There is really no tidy moral to take away from this film, and that is the enthralling power of this masterpiece. A story like Spotlight shouldn’t end in comfort. Instead, it leaves your skin prickling – both at the despicable business of secret-keeping and the courage and resourcefulness that rivetingly overturns it. On some dark and unspoken level, no one ever wants to know.
Would I recommend this film? Absolutely. This is my 5/5 and my 10/10.